You know when life sends you a series of situations that make you think, what in fresh hell is happening?! When your car breaks down, someone flips out on you at work or a run of bad luck sees everything feeling like a waking nightmare? These things happen in life because, surprise surprise, life is often a weird series of events that can either help us to grow, or send us into disarray (clearly this is the less constructive route). Luckily, we have total control over the direction we take when life throws us odd scenarios, and being able to choose the higher road of growth is possible through the very essential practice of managing your triggers.
Triggers are the incredibly complex things that set us off. The scenarios, words, actions, songs or images that spark an emotional reaction that can very easily influence the way we then behave. Triggers are incredibly sneaky things. Things that can seem totally benign to others, yet as soon as they arise, we are transported right back into the root of the pain and trauma that birthed it in the first place. When your triggers go unmanaged, their presence can wreak havoc on your life and the lives of those around you, so it is incredibly important to stick them under the interrogation lamp and figure out where they came from, and how to keep them at bay. Here is a little example to try and make what I’m talking about clear:
A song comes on the radio that was played at someones funeral who you were close to. You find that for the rest of the day you’re a bit quiet and agitated, snapping at your partner for no reason. They’re left confused.
Unpacking the trigger:
The song triggered you to feel upset, you were emotionally transported back to that scenario and the pain you felt at the time feels fresh in your heart. There is a piece of you that is still grieving, which is completely normal and okay.
How to manage your trigger:
Acknowledging your sadness and allowing it to sit in your heart and then move through you is key. Pushing it down will only mean that it’s likely to pop up again with more intensity. Acknowledging it aloud to your partner or a friend is also very helpful, and honours your feelings as being valid, healthy and normal. Telling your partner that the song made you feel a bit sad and explaining why will also give them the opportunity to take your hand and hold your feelings with you. Being with someone whilst they are in pain is an incredibly powerful act of intimacy and trust, and can assist with healing. It will also shed more light on your actions if you are a bit upset or snippy later. Instead of your partner thinking “What is his/her problem? They’re being so nasty and I haven’t even done anything” they will be able to say “Are you still a bit triggered from before? Do you need a hug or to have a chat?”. This sharing opens up the dialogue for healing, and acts as a soothing gel over your old, raw wound. Soon enough, it will hurt less and less, until one day that trigger won’t be so bad, or may not even exist anymore.
Essentially, triggers will come in all shapes and sizes, and so will our reactions to them.
Here’s another example scenario:
You are in a social situation and feel as though you aren’t really being listened to. That thought the leads to another thought which goes something like this: “These people don’t even like me. They are so rude. Why aren’t they paying more attention to me?”. You may withdraw and go quiet, over-analysing the conversation as it continues to happen, taking every word as further evidence that backs up your inner story in which you are the victim and everyone else is out to get you.
This scenario is way too common in life, and I have seen it play out in a myriad of ways, but what it is really teaching the triggered person is that there is a wound there that needs attention. Maybe you were dismissed and talked over by your family as a child? Maybe you were bullied and ignored really badly at school, and this is bringing back that memory? Maybe you had a partner who used to talk over you and dismiss you all the time and this situation is bringing back that anger and anxiety? This is a classic example of a big honkin’ trigger that points to a big ol’ reservoir of unresolved trauma that needs to be seen to.
Being a human being is hard, and believe it or not, we all have trauma. The size and depth of our traumas will all be different, but the presence of them in our lives mean that we all too have triggers. If you think that you don’t have any triggers, I would bet my life that they are there, but you just haven’t been able to catch yourself when you’re in that space yet. I encourage you to analyse difficult scenarios in your life and try to find the triggers.
Triggers are both awful and wonderful things, as their rule on our lives can be pretty huge and therefore really difficult to change, but they also act as giant neon sings that point to the parts of ourselves that still need to be healed.
Wading through your various triggers and traumas isn’t always easy work, but it is work well worth doing. It can of course be done alone, or with help (check out my previous blogs on ‘What is Your Therapy?’ for some ideas of how you can get help to improve your life).
I’m a big believer in things happening exactly the way they are supposed to, and regardless of whether you agree with that sentiment or not, acceptance is the core of it. Acceptance is the essential ingredient in not getting all twisted up in what happened, and who said what, and all of the other things that have already happened and are totally out of your control. The road to acceptance is only possible through healing those wounds that scream for your attention when you are triggered. Learning to control your triggers will ultimately lead to a greater sense of inner peace, as you will no longer be a victim to situations.
You can do it!